Washington Avenue Steamship Landing and Immigration station

The bustling Washington Avenue waterfront was the site of Philadelphia's immigrant receiving station from the mid-1870s through 1915. A transportation hub, the avenue was also criss–crossed with the various lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroad owned the Washington Avenue wharves, from which their trains transported raw materials, produce, sugar, grain, finished goods, and people—including newly arrived immigrants—to points within Philadelphia and across the country.

Before the late 19th-century construction of the station and the establishment of fast, modern steamship service to Philadelphia, most European immigrants arrived in New York City and took a train to Philadelphia, or came directly to Philadelphia by slow-moving sailing ship. After the first steamships began docking at Washington Avenue in 1873, the Pennsylvania Railroad built the two-story immigration station to receive the rapidly increasing number of immigrants arriving from eastern and southern Europe via the new Red Star and American lines.

English and Irish and immigrants made up the bulk of Philadelphia's foreign-born population through the mid-1800s. They arrived on sailing ships originating mostly from the port of Liverpool, landing at Philadelphia in the warmer months when the Delaware River wasn't frozen. From 1799 until 1893, all ships destined for Philadelphia docked first at the Lazaretto, a quarantine hospital a few miles south of Philadelphia in Tinicum Township, Delaware County, that was built in response to the devastating outbreak of yellow fever in 1793. At the Lazaretto ships were inspected and immigrants received medical examinations before proceeding up the Delaware to the Washington Avenue piers. (In 2006, historic preservation groups reached a deal with Tinicum Township, which owns the Lazaretto, to develop a preservation plan for the historic structure.)

Between the 1870s and 1915, tens of thousands of primarily eastern and southern European immigrants disembarked at Washington Avenue piers from steamships departing from ports in Britain, France, Germany, Holland, and Italy. Those who stayed settled in the nearby waterfront neighborhoods like Southwark, Moyamensing, Northern Liberties, Port Richmond, and Kensington that offered available jobs and affordable housing. But thousands of other boarded Pennsylvania Railroad trains to Pittsburgh, Chicago, and beyond.

In the years before World War I, immigrant traffic grew enough that Philadelphia began to receive immigrant ships at additional piers along the Delaware, including Fitzwater, Reed, Callowhill, and Vine streets. Plans for a larger processing station akin to New York's Ellis Island fizzled when World War I and the introduction of strict immigration quotas in the 1920s choked off the steady flow of immigrants.

The Immigration Act of 1965 eliminated the quotas and paved the way for immigration from beyond Europe. The so-called "new immigrants"—meaning non-European—came from and still come from South and Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Although new Philadelphians no longer arrive by steamship, Washington Avenue remains a center of immigrant activity. Since the early 1990s, the predominately industrial character of Washington Avenue has been transformed into a multiethnic, multi–use mix of retail, wholesale, and ethnic restaurants. The avenue is increasingly punctuated by Southeast Asian and Mexican businesses serving these two fast-growing immigrants communities in South Philadelphia.

References

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Address

Christopher Columbus Blvd. At Washington Ave.

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Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church Shot Tower Conveyed Hancock Street Houses Site of the Southwark Soup Society Weccacoe Engine Co.'s House, and Reception of United Fire Co. of Baltimore Church of St. Philip Neri Court having nine small houses in rear of a tenement house Mario Lanza Park banner Pelzer Funeral Home Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church front entrance Budweiser's Bar Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Church St. Stanislaus Catholic Church James Forten Kesher Israel Synagogue B'nai Abraham synagogue Mt. Tabor African Methodist Church Lombard Street Riot Historical Marker Octavius V. Catto W.E.B. Du Bois portrait Firefighter Stephen Presco, Engine 11 Housefronts on 600 Block of Kater Street Bedford Street Mission The Antiquarian's Delight Retail Depot of the Great Philadelphia Made Clothing N. Snellenburg & Co. Curb Market, 4th Street and South Street Famous 4th Street Delicatessen sign 4th Street, 1940 Marmelstein's front window on Fabric Row Casa Ravello Milk Station House of Industry historical marker Graphic Sketch Club Julia and Aldo Allegrini wedding L'Opinione: Il Departmento Circolazione Vietnamese Hung Vuong Association Curtis Publishing Plant/Lofts at Bella Vista Isgro Pastries storefront St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church Verdi Hall Italian Market, 1947 Lady of Good Council R.C. Church, Christian above 8th Sts. Interior of Luigi Fiorella Meat Market Italian & American Maccaroni Works Dan Khang Nha Trang sign Anthony's Chocolate House exterior D'Angelo's Specialty Meats storefront Playbill for the "The Passion Play of Christ"  presented by the Filodramatic Circle Gasperinese, 1931 The Procession of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi mural Fante-Leone Public Pool Cannuli Brothers storefront Talluto's Authentic Italian Food storefront Grassia's Italian Market Spice Company Lupita's Grocery Store storefront Paul Giordano Sr. Saigon Maxim restaurant Jefferson Square Mia (left) and Mary (right) Viola St. Maron's Church exterior Bitar's Eastern Mediterranean Grill Southeast Corner - 9th Street and Washington Avenue Washington Avenue Immigration Station
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